Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Review: House Of Lies

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Grade: B

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a huge Kristen Bell fan. HUGE. Veronica Mars is one of my five favorite television shows ever. I watched Heroes much longer than I should have simply because Bell joined the cast. Hell… I have two awful movies (When In Rome and You Again) in my Netflix queue simply because she stars in them. What I’m saying is, I won’t blame you if you take this review with a bit of a grain of salt. When I saw that Bell was co-starring in Showtime’s latest comedy, House Of Lies, I was in from the get-go and was predisposed to at least tolerate it simply because of her presence. That an accomplished film actor like Don Cheadle was the star and that it was on Showtime, allowing the producers to push the envelope as far as content is concerned sealed the deal. So, after watching its pilot it’s nice to be able to say that it looks like there’s an interesting show in here somewhere, as opposed to watching a crapfest purely for Bell’s sake.

House Of Lies follows a team of management consultants lead by Cheadle’s Marty Kaan [1] and featuring Bell as the ambitious Jeannie Van Der Hooven, Ben Schwartz as Clyde Oberholt (a more subdued version of his Parks And Recreation character, Jean-Ralphio [2]), and Australian actor Josh Lawson as the as-of-now uninteresting Doug Guggenheim, all of whom are employed by the fictional Washington DC-based firm of Galweather & Stearn. These four comprise the central team of consultants who, as it seems will be the show’s wont for the first season, travel from town to town trying to help the corporate hated become somewhat less hated. In the pilot, they’re tasked with putting a happy face on a large bank [3] that was deep into the subprime mess. They use corporate buzzwords like “data dump” and “counseled out” which Cheadle helpfully explains in a Saved By The Bell Zack Morris-like effect where the screen freezes and he speaks directly to the audience. While some have felt that this is pandering to a degree, I actually found it to be helpful in understanding the story because what the hell do I know about corporate consulting and/or its jargon? Cheadle describes the consulting process as akin to “dissing a really pretty girl so that she’ll like you more,” and, in a unique approach, goes through his entire procedure in a meeting with the clients by freezing the screen every few seconds to hold up placards that describe to the audience the types of shit that he’s attempting to shovel to his clients.

In what seems like it could end up as House Of Lies’ formula if the show isn’t careful, Kaan’s team struggles initially with the job only to have Kaan use his skill to wrap things at the last minute. Wash, rinse, repeat next week in a different city. The assignment that the team was tasked with in the pilot was engaging enough to hold my attention but I would caution the show from adhering too strongly to this format in the future. Granted, we’re just talking about the pilot so there’s certainly time to rectify this, but no one in the team – other than Kaan – seems to be anywhere close to fleshed out as Lawson’s Doug registers no impression whatsoever and Schwartz’s Clyde seems to be nothing more than comic relief. The only clue of where one of the supporting characters may be headed is Bell’s Jeannie, whom it’s hinted that Kaan has an infatuation with and who is in possession of some kind of secret that Kaan is desperate to uncover. She, in turn, holds a business psychology degree and analyzes Kaan in quick and easy fashion (unsettling him) in front of the rest of the team. If you need a refresher on my thoughts on Bell, I’d refer you back to the first paragraph. Needless to say, I’d like to see more emphasis placed on her character – the business psychology aspect is intriguing – and I’d be surprised if House Of Lies didn’t head that way in future episodes [4].

As seems to be the standard operating procedure in a show like this, as good as Kaan is at his job he’s equally as inept in his home life. His ex-wife Monica Talbot (Dawn Olivieri, The Vampire Diaries) heads Galweather & Stearn’s top rival and Kaan shares a complex and competitive relationship with her [5]. His psychiatrist father Jeremiah (Glynn Turman, Super 8) is the live-in caregiver for his pre-teen son Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.). Oh, and his son is also a cross-dresser who has hopes of landing the role of Sandy in his school’s production Grease. No big thing [6]. House Of Lies makes it clear that while Kaan is trying to relate to his son, he’s having difficulty. We see Kaan use his spinning skills to help Roscoe hold onto the role after a fellow parent raises a stink about her daughter not being cast as Sandy, but he then has no problems selling Roscoe out [7] in order to bang the well-endowed mother of the other Sandy hopeful. At this point, the whole Roscoe storyline seems like wackiness for wackiness’ sake and is probably the most concerning aspect of House Of Lies thus far, but there’s ample time for the creative team to recalibrate this plotline.

There’s definitely a lot to like about House Of Lies: Don Cheadle has himself a meaty role and has shown in his film roles that he’s one of the better actors working today; I’m a huge fan of Bell and have been anxiously awaiting her return to television; House Of Lies will most certainly be aided by its cable setting. There are also some caution flags that are present, but I’ve said this in the past: It’s rare that a show arrives fully-formed. A large part of evaluating a pilot is deciding if there’s the potential of an interesting enough series that warrants sticking with the show until it realizes what it’s trying to do. With House Of Lies? I really think there just might be an interesting show in here. And if there isn’t? There’s always Kristen Bell to stare at for 30 minutes a week. I’ve done it before, and I’ll surely do it again if I have to.

[1] Quickly established as a savant of spin, to alliteratively put it one way.
[2] Which between this, Parks And Rec, and the cancelled Undercovers can almost be called “the Ben Schwartz character.”
[3] Think Bank Of America or GMAC
[4] I’m conveniently ignoring the fact that House Of Lies’ creator Matthew Carnahan was responsible for the mess that was FX’s Dirt a few years back because I like Cheadle and particularly Bell as much as I do.
[5] The first image we see when the show begins is Cheadle’s naked ass climbing out of bed with her and trying to rush her (prescription pill-afflicted) body out of the room before their son sees that she’s there. This also leads to the first freeze-effect where Kaan warns, “Word of advice. Don’t. Ever. Fuck. Your ex-wife.”
[6] Kaan, when his father tries to tell him that Roscoe is just acting normally: “’Cause dressing up as a slut and trying to get John Travolta to fuck you is just like Little League.”
[7] The “compromise” is that Roscoe has to play Rizzo.

Miscellany:

 *Nice to see the professionally smarmy Greg Germann as one of the execs at the bank where Kaan’s team is consulting.
*Kaan’s idea of flirting with Jeannie: “Is your poop chute an option?” Never forget that this is Showtime we’re dealing with here, folks.
*Jeannie, after hearing about Kaan’s idea to pass a stripper off as his wife at a dinner meeting with Germann’s exec: “I would rather work at Arby’s.”
*Monica’s clearly a good mother. Her thoughts on Roscoe: “He still loves me, even if I forget to love him.”
*”It’s the moment when you have the guys with the world by the balls by the balls.” Kaan, after landing his last-ditch presentation to the Big Bad Bank.
*The score here is a little omnipresent and intrusive. Maybe dial it back a little, guys.
*Line presented without context: “I was squirting!” Again… Showtime!
*Just because I’m a sucker for Bell, here’s her appearance on the Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson from last week. She was ostensibly there to promote House Of Lies but she’s a frequent guest on Ferguson’s show and their comic chemistry is a helluva lot of fun to watch.

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Written by jeremylikestv

January 19, 2012 at 12:35 pm

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